DennisBeaverApril 12, 2014   •  By Dennis Beaver

 “Remember the Miracle on the Hudson photographs of U.S. Air Flight 1549 which was successfully ditched in the Hudson River by Captain Sully Sullenberger in January of 2009?” asks Loyola Law School and Thomas Jefferson School of Law adjunct professor, attorney Aaron Ghirardelli.

“That photo reached news bureaus all over the world within minutes of being taken by a passenger on a nearby ferry boat, but he did not send it to any news agency. So, how did it get there, and why is knowing the answer to this question important for your readers?”

“It was Twitter,” Ghirardelli explains. “The photographer sent a photo via TwitPic and Twitter to his friend, and within minutes it went viral. Sensational photos such as this are normally sold for a great deal of money, so how much do you think photographer Janis Krums was paid?

“Most likely nothing from the initial publications. This is because news bureaus took the photo online, thinking that it was public domain just because anyone could see it online. This illustrates what most people do not understand about using social networks. You may lose far more than you gain.”

As I would learn in my interview with Ghirardelli – which felt very much like being back in law school at Loyola – what we lose can go far deeper than simply not being paid for a photo.

Online services aren’t as free as you think

“While we consider online Social Network services as ‘free,’ Facebook, Twitter and the others need to make money, just as any business,” Ghirardelli points out. “The result of using a website is a contract with them. Also, creating an account binds you to their terms of service, typically, permitting them to obtain a lot of information about you and to use it in many ways.

“For example, Twitter states that you are the owner of anything you post, but are also granting them a free worldwide license to use your content. These websites need this license to develop their services which we all realize are tremendously beneficial, and the courts support these agreements. This is why Twitter will be able to, for example, display your tweets on TV, publish a book with your best photos, etc.” Ghirardelli stresses.

How ads get into your email – Hello big brother

“Have you noticed that ads often appear to the side of your email messages which seem to be strangely close to what you might have been writing about?  Ever wondered if someone was reading your email and then targeting you with these ads?” the Loyola Law School professor asks.

“It’s not someone, but something, a computer program which is searching for key words in the email and then tailoring the ad to the contents of your message. It’s legal, and one of the ways that your ‘free’ email can be paid for.”

“There is also something that most people do not know about email that’s a bit creepy, so, Dennis, want to guess what it is?” Professor Ghirardelli asked this “law student” who felt a dunce cap growing on top of his head.

OK, just a guess, but please don’t tell me that the government has a right to read all of my mails if they want to? They can’t do that, can they?

“They can! Some case law makes it clear that government can inspect your emails any time they want without a search warrant. The reason given is that there is no expectation of privacy.  Google itself, the maker of Gmail, used the same argument in a recent case to defend the company from a class-action claim. This is because when we send an email, as it goes through several servers, it is open to being read by anyone in the transmission chain, unlike a letter we actually send in the mail.

“Suppose you are facing criminal prosecution and send emails to friends – or to your lawyer – making serious admissions of fault. If you do that, better look up a recipe for Cooked Goose,” Ghirardelli next said with a big smile.

No expectation of privacy with anything you post

“Never assume that what you post on social networks is private.  It isn’t. It is public. Even if you try to remove it, it’s still there, accessible by someone or some organization.

“Just as you should never email your lawyer confidential communications, do not share credit card info in an email or post anything on Twitter or Facebook without realizing that it is public.

“Hackers, pirates, private investigators, law enforcement, and pre-employment human resource companies comb through postings looking for useful information.

“There is no such thing as privacy in cyberspace,” cautions the law professor.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.